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WP Comms and Multicultural Teams

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WP Comms and Multicultural Teams

  1. 1. 01 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. Back to Babel: Overcoming Communication Challenges in Multicultural Teams Nick Royle
  2. 2. 02 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. 03 Contents Lost in translation? Getting past communication barriers within your multicultural team The most common challenges Requirements for successful intercultural communication Groups that adapt achieve the most success 04
  3. 3. 03 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. Lost in translation? Getting past communication barriers within your multicultural team Within the workplace, multicultural teams have become the norm, with team members bringing different values, assumptions, and patterns of behavior to the group. To work effectively within such environments and maximize knowledge transfer, it has become increasingly important to cultivate a global mindset and understand the impact of cultural differences on everyday business practices. This white paper will explore the dynamics of intercultural communication, the importance of cultural awareness with regard to business practices, and strategies for managing and working within multicultural teams. The most common challenges Language doesn’t just occur through syntax, grammar, and the spoken or written word. It’s a flexible method of communication that incorporates gesture, shared understanding, humor, and -- most importantly -- another person to receive and respond to that communication. Multicultural teams run into trouble when the individuals involved are unable to identify the differences that exist within their own and the other members’ communication styles. These include: The language barrier: This is the most obvious. How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak a word of the same language as you? Or only a few basic phrases? The contextual challenge: What does a given message mean within the context of the other interactions and conversations occurring before, simultaneously or in the future? The objective: Does the message matter most, or is the delivery more important? Are truth and transparency a must, or does it depend on the circumstances? The cultural lens: How does an individual from a different culture interpret meaning? How can certain behaviors or actions differ from one culture to another? Here, from the Harvard Business Review, are examples of how these differing communication styles can create conflict: A Latin American member of a multicultural consulting group was frustrated with his inability to communicate effectively. He told the Review, “Many times I felt that because of the language difference, I didn’t have the words to say some things that I was thinking. I noticed that when I went to these interviews with the U.S. guy, he would tend to lead the interviews, which was understandable but also disappointing, because we are at the same level. I had very good questions, but he would take the lead.”
  4. 4. 04 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. In another instance, an American manager interfacing with a client in Japan did not realize the Japanese norm with regard to discussion: “In Japan, they want to talk and discuss. Then we take a break and they talk within the organization. They want to make sure that there’s harmony in the rest of the organization. One of the hardest lessons for me was when I thought they were saying yes but they just meant ‘I’m listening to you.’” When the American sent a direct email pointing out flaws that existed in the system, she violated a cultural norm and was isolated from the discussions – both socially and physically. Although she was correct and the error was resolved, the Japanese team members did not appreciate her candor. This is not to say that anyone within a given culture behaves the same way, but in order to communicate effectively, it is important to understand how someone’s background may affect his or her assumptions and perception of what is being communicated. Requirements for successful intercultural communication In multicultural teams, it is not enough to rely on language skills alone – though those will certainly help. Rather, individuals, managers and HR must be versed in how to read body language, how to understand gestures, how to acknowledge cultural assumptions and how to avoid confrontation. To do so requires three attributes: Curiosity: Take the time to learn the language, even if it’s only a few basic terms and phrases, and make an effort to understand cultural norms. Respect: Address team members formally until trust is gained and be mindful of time differences during conference calls or virtual meetings. Empathy: Speak slowly and enunciate, don’t be taken off guard by unexpected answers, and ask questions to understand what the person means. For example, the ability to schedule longer meetings to accommodate different communication styles shows respect and empathy. Asking questions and admitting your own ignorance shows curiosity and deference. Additionally, the ability to laugh at your own shortcomings and mistakes can go a long way toward easing tensions. Groups that adapt achieve the most success There are several ways to resolve intercultural disputes within a team, such as managerial intervention and dividing team members into subgroups. However, these are not ideal. The goal is to accomplish whatever business objectives exist
  5. 5. 05 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. as efficiently and thoroughly as possible and not stall over communication issues, stereotypes, or stubbornness. When there are clashes, the most effective way to address them is to first identify why they’re occurring. If they’re the result of cultural assumptions or a lack of cultural literacy, it may be necessary for the group to set aside time to discuss this, and how to improve communication. Individual efforts to set the group on track can also be effective. In one instance, for example, a team of Spanish, American, and Korean members stalled in discussions when the Korean members used their native tongue to hold private conversations. However, the Spanish members counteracted that issue by speaking solely in Spanish at the same time. They were able to communicate their frustrations, but in an indirect way, as per Korean custom, and salvage the deal. Another case involved an American engineer working with Irish and Israeli members. The Israelis had a confrontational, argumentative communication style, which intimidated the other members at first. But the American realized that the Israelis were acting based on cultural norms, not out of disrespect, so he was able to adjust accordingly and continue being productive. The ability to work within multicultural teams is becoming increasingly necessary within the workplace. By understanding cultural norms, maintaining respect, and demonstrating the willingness to learn, multicultural teams have a far greater chance of successfully accomplishing their objectives.
  6. 6. 06 How to build multicultural teams with clear communication. Mobility Services International One Liberty Lane East Hampton, NH 03842 USA +1 800 648 4018 (toll-free) +1 603 274 9100 (direct) +1 603 274 9199 (fax)

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